Power Players

Barbara Corcoran says her struggles in school had a surprising benefit: 'That's exactly what built my business and got me rich'

Barbara Corcoran on ABC's "Shark Tank."
Christopher Willard | Walt Disney Television | Getty Images

Doing well in school doesn't necessarily translate to financial success. Just ask Barbara Corcoran.

In a recent TikTok video, the 74-year-old entrepreneur and investor on ABC's "Shark Tank" told her followers that she often struggled in school as a child. "I couldn't do letters and numbers my whole life," Corcoran said, adding that she even got a classmate to do her math and English homework in exchange for "chalk games on her sidewalk."

One of the hardest parts of the experience was watching her classmates "breeze through" their assignments, she said. It taught her two valuable skills: resilience and creativity.

"[I] learned how to rebound," she said. "Get through any obstacle. I try harder than the next guy, and I work twice as hard as the next guy. But that's OK — that's exactly what built my business and got me rich."

Corcoran credited her success to her big-picture strategy and creative problem-solving skills, which is exactly what "makes people with learning disabilities such good entrepreneurs," Becca Lory Hector, a Levant, Maine-based neurodiversity and disability researcher, tells CNBC Make It.

"We're always looking for those out-of-the-box solutions," says Hector, who was diagnosed with autism and dyscalculia at age 36. "We know they're out there, because we've found them. And so we're looking for them all the time."

Corcoran has previously discussed her childhood struggles with dyslexia. Being asked to read in front of a class was her idea of "hell on Earth," and her teachers and classmates "constantly" called her dumb, she wrote in a 2020 LinkedIn post.

Notably, her fellow "Shark Tank" stars Daymond John and Kevin O'Leary have also spoken about their own experiences with dyslexia. O'Leary's learning difference made him "fall behind in math and reading skills" as a child, but now, he views it as a "superpower," he told CNBC Make It last year.

John didn't get an official diagnosis until his adult years, but during his childhood, his father Garfield would get "upset" with him for being unable to spell "Garfield," he told Beacon College's "A World of Difference" TV show in 2021.

Hector's top piece of advice for students or professionals working through learning differences: Get rid of the "myth that there's one way to do things." O'Leary, for example, conquered his anxiety over reading by learning how to read books upside down in the mirror in front of other people.

"Almost everything has more than one way you can attack it, more than one way that it can be taken apart and more than one way that you can understand it," Hector says. "The key is more about understanding yourself and your capabilities and where your challenge points are. It's that self-awareness piece that leads you to finding what works for you."

Or, as Corcoran put it in her video: "Being the dumb kid in class made me a millionaire."

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."

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'Shark' Barbara Corcoran says this mindset is the 'secret to her success'
'Shark' Barbara Corcoran says this mindset is the 'secret to her success'